Thanks for the Big Bend links, RHodo. Can you recommend any stores in SA that will give us guidance without trying to upsell naive newbies? You're right with Christmas approaching ... I have been thinking about what I could give my son regarding backpacking. I had in mind books and a gift certificate for shoes and another for a week's worth of my undivided time. I'd like to be able to pull ourselves together in time to make some kind of journey over spring break in mid-March. Our family runs at 100 miles per hour with work, school, activity after activity, and backpacking will be a great opportunity to slow down and catch our breath.